Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Latinos, Mental Health Care and the American Dream

By MaJose Carrasco, Director, NAMI Multicultural Action Center

Last month I celebrated my 16th anniversary of moving to the United States. I have now lived almost half of my life here.

I still remember the day I came to this country. In one day of travel I went from Quito, Ecuador to Kirksville, Mo. I went from living in a city of more than a million people to a rural town of 15,000 and from 9,000 feet above sea level to 965 feet.

I was 17 years old. I had just graduated from high school and I could not wait to start my college experience. To be honest, I never thought I would stay here beyond my college years. But here I am.

I am one of the more than 50 million Latinos who live in this country. My story is just one of the many of people who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. We have come for many different reasons: fleeing wars and revolutions, seeking better economic opportunities, to advance our education and looking for a better future for our families.

Do these reasons sound familiar?

Like many who came before us—Germans, Irish, Italians and others—Latinos have come looking for the American Dream. In the process we have enriched and strengthened America through our backgrounds and our experiences. The road that brought as here may be different in some ways, but at the end, we have all come to love and become part of this great nation.

We share the same challenges as others—and in some cases additional ones. Mental illness is no exception. Latinos have similar rates of mental illness as the nation’s overall population. However, we face additional barriers to mental health care. Many studies underscore significant disparities in access and quality of mental health treatment.

MaJose Carrasco, Director of NAMI's Multicultural Action Center

Latinos, no matter their socio-economic status, receive some of the worst mental health care in our society. Imagine for a moment the bad, broken and convoluted mental health system that your own families have navigated. Now imagine it being much, much worst. That’s what my community faces.

This is one of the reason Latinos have joined NAMI: to help change this unacceptable reality. We have joined NAMI to help our community and to provide others the help and support they need to recover. We have joined NAMI to advocate for equality in access and quality of care and to improve care for everyone. Will you join us too?

Thankfully NAMI has created many resources both for Latinos and people working to engage our community. Our common experiences give us common cause.

Editor’s Note: Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. This year’s theme is “Many Backgrounds, Many Stories, One American Spirit”



Anonymous said...

My grandparents (and father) were immigrants from Italy. It took courage and hardwork. I have sometimes wonder whether cultural, economic stress triggered mental illness in my family's second generation, or at least made us more vulnerable. Doctors and counselors need to be more knowledgeable about the immigrant experienc and culturally competeent in their evaluations. Immigrants helped build America (and continjue to do so) but our health care system needs to reognize the prices sometimes paid.

Kelly Crofton said...

My uncle and aunt got shifted to America from Europe, and they are staying there past from 15 years. As you said its really a great thing to get adjusted and stay there for such a long period.

V.S. Leyva said...

"Like many who came before us—Germans, Irish, Italians and others—Latinos have come looking for the American Dream" -- Please note that Latinos have a long and complicated history in the Americas that predates the groups you have mentioned. This is an important, and often overlooked distinction that is important for many reasons, not least being that it has greatly affected Latino cultural identity in the US.

Fred Sandoval said...

Majose Carrasco represents the voice of many Latinos who have made the American Dream a reality. American history is about so many families and individuals who have migrated and immigrated to America. It is when a bias or stigma is attached to being an immigrant that it than connotes a difference intended to separate us apart. Mental illness teaches us that no one is exempt from the harm and trauma these illnesses cause. The human condition is subject to the complexities of brain disorders which often times have no cure. Adding stigma to persons with mental illness adds yet another layer of misunderstanding and labeling. Latinos are a proud people and for those of us whose European ancestors have lived in the present day U.S. Southwest since 1598, we call this land of ours - home. We invite you to reach out to a Latino colleague, friend, co-worker, family or group during Hispanic Heritage Month and help us bridge the gaps in our knowledge about our cultures, families, and countries of origin and help discuss how we can achieve health equity for all Americans TOGETHER.
Fredrick Sandoval, MPA, National Latino Mental Health Association